Bonie Jean


There was a lass and she was fair, At kirk or market to be seen; When a' our fairest maids were met, The fairest maid was bonie Jean. And ay she wrought her Mammie's wark, And ay she sang sae merrilie; The blythest bird upon the bush Had ne'er a lighter heart than she. But hawks will rob the tender joys That bless the little lintwhite's nest; And frost will blight the fairest flowers, And love will break the soundest rest. Young Robie was the brawest lad, The flower and pride of a' the glen; And he had owsen, sheep, and kye, And wanton naigies nine or ten. He gaed wi' Jeanie to the tryste, He danc'd wi' Jeanie on the down; And, lang ere witless Jeanie wist, Her heart was tint, her peace was stown! As in the bosom o' the stream, The moon-beam dwells at dewy e'en; So trembling, pure, was tender love Within the breast of bonie Jean. And now she works her Mammie's wark, And ay she sighs wi' care and pain; Yet wist na what her ail might be, Or what wad make her weel again. But did na Jeanie's heart lowp light, And did na joy blink in her e'e, As Robie tauld a tale o' love Ae e'ening on the lily lea? The sun was sinking in the west, The birds sang sweet in ilka grove; His cheek to hers he fondly laid, And whisper'd thus his tale o' love: "O Jeanie fair, I loe thee dear; O canst thou think to fancy me! Or wilt thou leave thy Mammie's cot, And learn to tent the farms wi' me? At barn or byre thou shalt na drudge, Or naething else to trouble thee; But stray amang the heather-bells, And tent the waving corn wi' me. Now what could artless Jeanie do? She had nae will to say him na: At length she blush'd a sweet consent, And love was aye between them twa.

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Karen Dunbar

About this work

This is a song by Robert Burns. It was written in 1793 and is read here by Karen Dunbar.

More about this song

Written in 1793, 'Bonie Jean' was inspired by Jean McMurdo (1777-1839), the daughter of Burns's friend John McMurdo of Drumlanrig (1743-1803) who was Chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry. In July of 1793 Burns sent the finished ballad to George Thomson for inclusion in his Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs.

The poet also sent it to John McMurdo requesting permission to present it to his daughter. In his letter to McMurdo, Burns shows an awareness of his legacy when he writes that, 'I assure you, I am not a little flattered with the idea, when I anticipate children pointing out in future Publications the tributes of respect I have bestowed upon their mothers'.

Eventually Burns presented the ballad to Jean herself, flattering that, 'The personal charms, the purity of mind, the ingenious naiveté of heart and manners, in my heroine, are, I flatter myself, a pretty just likeness of Miss M'murdo in a cottager'.

The poet then proceeds to express concern for Jean as she comes of age and, 'female Youth, Beauty and Innocence about to enter into this much chequered and very precarious world.' The ballad itself is a pastoral song which invokes nature to create a scene of beauty, simplicity and innocence.

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this song

nature love work woman man farming

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